Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12 Mar 2003 : Column 319—continued

Mr. Win Griffiths: On that subject, has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to cost the impact of the Conservative party's proposed 20 per cent. cuts on the public services provided in Wales?

Peter Hain: That is an interesting suggestion, which I may deal with, as a result of my hon. Friend's wise advice, sooner rather than later.

Those cuts will mean up to 20 per cent. cuts in nurses, teachers, police officers and all the services that we have sought to rebuild in Wales. Conservative Front-Bench Members may shake their heads, but we have experienced Tory cuts before. At last, teachers feel that they are able to do their jobs. At last, nurses and doctors feel that they have a Government on their side. At last, police officers feel that they have a Government on their side to fight rising crime.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley has often questioned me about the problem of waiting lists in Wales, which is difficult in some areas, although in many areas it is improving. If it is difficult now, imagine what it would be like after the Tories' 20 per cent. cuts in the health service budget.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): Does my right hon. Friend think that some of the confusion among Conservative Members arises from the fact that, according to their latest leaflet, they do not seem to be able to tell the difference between Belgian francs and pounds?

Peter Hain: Indeed.

Mr. Evans: Will the Secretary of State explain to the House, as I am confused about the matter, why, in 1997, waiting lists in Wales were dramatically lower than they are now?

Peter Hain: I was trying to provoke the hon. Gentleman to ask a question such as that, and he has duly obliged, for which I am grateful. What is interesting about those figures and the overall picture is that 200,000 more patients are being seen, and were seen last year, than in the last year of Tory government. That is a sign of the extra throughput in Welsh hospitals and other health institutions.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 320

The figures speak for themselves: an increase of 7 per cent. in the number of patients being seen since the Tories left office. Other waiting list achievements include a reduction in the target for cardiac surgery: the total number of people waiting has fallen to its lowest level since February 1999. The target for bringing down angiogram waiting times has also been reduced, and that applies equally to orthopaedic and cataract surgery. A lot more is needed to improve the situation, but 200,000 more patients are being seen, and if the Tories were to introduce 20 per cent. health cuts, far fewer patients would be seen and waiting lists would lengthen out of sight.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): While I applaud the fact that the Labour Administration in Cardiff will not go down the dangerous route to foundation hospitals, such hospitals along the border will probably have the right to set their own rates of pay for medical staff, including nurses. Is not there a danger that the already severe crisis in retention of nursing staff in Wales could be made even worse as they are poached from over the border by high rates of pay?

Peter Hain: No. Wales has decided to use a different model because Welsh needs, interests and values are different. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that the border can just be abolished, as though Wales can be floated off—which is his policy, of course. We have cross-border treatment now and that will continue, whatever the hospital structure.

Adam Price: Unlike the Secretary of State, I oppose foundation hospitals in Wales and in England. That is the contradiction that I am trying to tease out. Foundation hospitals in England will have a detrimental effect on the provision of health services in Wales.

Peter Hain: That is simply not proven. The hon. Gentleman does not even want to be a Member of this Parliament in Westminster; he wants Wales to be independent, hived off as a separate state. So his assertions on the matter are as unfounded as his objectives are indefensible.

The choice for Wales is between Labour's goal of full employment for our generation and economic prosperity for all, and the Tory policy of scrapping the new deal, higher unemployment and returning Wales to the same old failed Tory policies. The choice is between millions benefiting from our goal of ending child and pensioner poverty, ensuring prosperity not for the few but for the many, and the Tory policy of cutting the minimum wage, abolishing the child and pensioner tax credits and privatising the basic state pension. As the Government who created the minimum wage and equal pay, new rights to take time off work, new rights for part-time as well as full-time workers and new rights for women workers, we know that an enterprising economy on the one hand, and workers' rights, women's rights and equal rights on the other, are not opposing objectives but inseparable allies to create a stronger Wales. That is why we will shortly raise maternity pay to £100 a week, extend statutory time off for mothers to 26 weeks, and introduce paternity pay for the first time. We are also ending the Tory two-tier workforce in private

12 Mar 2003 : Column 321

finance initiative projects. We are doing more to ensure rights and fairness in the workplace—the foundation of a fair and successful economy.

We also stand ready to raise the minimum wage. Tory Ministers claimed that a minimum wage would cost a million jobs. In fact, with the minimum wage in place, we have not destroyed a million jobs; we have created more than a million jobs in Britain. The only jobs that the minimum wage cost were those of the Tory MPs who opposed it.

As for the nationalists, we know that they want the devolution settlement that people in Wales voted for to fail. Their actions in the Assembly over the past four years have shown them rejecting the path of partnership, preferring narrow oppositionalism. They prioritise constitutional wrangling and the costly trappings of a nation state over health, jobs, education and fighting crime. Their narrow separatist vision of a Wales set apart from the rest of Britain would divide communities, not unite them, and make Wales poorer, not richer.

Take any Labour Government spending commitment and the nationalists would double it—promising the earth and delivering nothing. The people of Wales are tired of such dishonesty, such opportunism, such posturing. [Interruption.] They know that the nationalists are fit only for opposition, never for government. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Peter Hain: I am grateful for your protection, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I rather enjoy the heckling. It keeps them off the street.

Look at Plaid Cymru's record in office. In Rhondda Cynon Taff, for example, it has closed day centres for the elderly and ended free parking for the disabled in council car parks. That is why Rhondda will come back to Labour on 1 May. In Carmarthenshire, it has closed day centre kitchens. That is why Llanelli and Carmarthen, East will come back to Labour on 1 May. The nationalists would rather put Tories into power than back Labour, as happened in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Mr. Simon Thomas: While the Secretary of State is examining Plaid Cymru's performance in local government, will he consider Rhondda Cynon Taff, which I used to work for when it was run by the Labour party? The council got into trouble with the district auditor, but he gave a clean bill of health to the authority after Plaid Cymru took over and put its finances into order. He should also consider Gwynedd and Caerphilly, where we might win in the May elections. One can get very good odds on that. In Gwynedd and Caerphilly, the GMB had an independent report on where the best economic development had occurred in Wales and—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is very long for an intervention.

Peter Hain: Caerphilly cut services under nationalist control. That is why we will win back Islwyn and retain control for Labour in Caerphilly.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): My right hon. Friend may have noticed that, in that long intervention,

12 Mar 2003 : Column 322

the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) did not mention the role of Plaid Cymru in propping up the Conservative council in the Vale of Glamorgan for the past five years. It has cut support for disadvantaged communities and distributed it elsewhere.

Peter Hain: My hon. Friend is right to point out what happens if the nationalists get the chance in power. Only recently, the nationalist presiding officer in the Assembly, Lord Elis-Thomas, said that he would find it impossible to have a coalition with Labour, but could envisage one with the Conservatives. They are not just Welsh nationalists but Welsh Tories, too. The Tories and the nationalists have collaborated in the past, both in local government and at Westminster, against Labour. Given the opportunity, they could do so again, so no one should be fooled into thinking that the Assembly elections do not matter, or that their vote will not make a difference. Our hard-earned economic progress, the record investment in public services and the partnership between Westminster and Cardiff that is enabling us to work together to tackle crime and poverty—and more—will all be at stake on 1 May in Wales's general election.

As for the Welsh Liberal Democrats—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] I did not want them to feel left out. Those of us with experience of their activities in local government will know that they are never backward in claiming credit for achievements, regardless of who may have initiated them. A recent guide for their council candidates advised:

I fear that they have adopted that policy at a Welsh level, with their claim that they are the "driving force" behind the Assembly Government—not so much a driving force, but more a piggy-back ride that will end on 1 May.

The Assembly elections will provide people with an opportunity to judge the Liberal Democrats on their own terms and policies, which in the past have often been uncosted and impractical. It is a party that has clung onto office but could never govern alone.

Next Section

IndexHome Page